Thursday, February 28, 2019

Baked Spaghetti

Baked spaghetti is one of our favorite dishes.
In fact, it replaced our traditional lasagna at Christmas.
For one thing, it's just as scrumptious,
but requires a lot less work.
Here, we have two versions,
one allergy-friendly,
and the other Big K's chosen concoction.

It starts with noodles.
Pretty much any pasta will do,
but in this case,
we used brown rice noodles.
C has multiple sensitivities,
so we substitute where needed.
His pasta was cooked and then slathered in tomato sauce.

We also add a bit of gravy (tomato sauce)
to the bottom of the baking dish,
to keep things from sticking.

We layered pasta, sauce, and browned ground chicken
and topped it with his shredded rice cheese.
(He must avoid wheat, gluten, dairy, corn and a few other things.)
It gets baked at 350 degrees (covered), for about 20 minutes.

For someone who doesn't care for his plate components touching,
he gobbles this stuff up.
This will be one of the meals I hope to teach him,
so that he can have a hot meal during these cold, winter months.

Big K's version is similar,
with gravy on the bottom, noodles and loose meat
(what we call browned ground chicken or turkey)

For this standard recipe,
we used angel hair pasta and a cheese mixture.

The cooking time is the same as C's version,
350 degrees (covered) for 20 minutes.
Basically, everything is already cooked, 
it's just to melt the cheese.

I usually make a big batch of this for Big K,
as he doesn't mind eating it for a few days.
My version is a combination of the two,
with traditional pasta, non-dairy cheese and no meat,
but a few veggies thrown in the mix.

Three different renditions of one mighty tasty dish.
This simple recipe may just become a family favorite 
at your house!

Baked Spaghetti 

1/2 box angel hair pasta
1/2 C tomato sauce
1/2 lb. ground chicken
1/2 C shredded cheese
1/2 t salt
1 clove garlic, minced
2 t Italian herbs

1.  Cook pasta according to package directions, 
drain, then set aside.
2.  Brown ground chicken, seasoning with salt, 
garlic and herbs, then set aside.
3.  Add some sauce to bottom of casserole dish.
4.  Layer noodles, meat and sauce, repeat.
5.  Top with shredded cheese. 
6.  Bake at 350 degrees, covered for 20 minutes.

(The noodles, cheese and meat can all be altered,
to accommodate dietary preferences.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Weatherization Take Two

our NC home

Back in Florida,
we had the Weatherization Assistance Program
come and do an evaluation on our home.
You can read that story here
In fact, we did a whole series based on the findings of that service.
The Weatherization Program helps qualified families
to improve the energy efficiency of their home.
As soon as we closed on our house here in the Piedmont,
we applied for the program.
After almost two years on the waiting list,
we were able to have an assessment done on our home.

 The energy auditor was here a couple of weeks ago
and did a series of assessments to determine
what systems might be improved upon in our 30-year old home.

Some of the possible improvements include:
1.  Sealing air leaks or ducts
2. Performing tune-ups on heating and cooling units
3.  Replacing existing lighting with energy efficient bulbs
4.  Determining carbon monoxide levels and resolving poor levels
5.  Installing insulation where needed.

 No, we haven't changed out our front door for a splash of bold color,
this is actually one of the tools that our auditor used 
to determine how much our home leaks air.

The auditor said that it looked pretty good
and was most likely due to the age of the house. 

As our home is newer than many of those evaluated,
there may not be much we qualify for,
but we wanted to make sure our home is as efficient as possible,
so we are not wasting money and resources.
Now that the evaluation has been done,
independent contractors will be scheduled to determine specific needs,
such as our heat pump system and possible insulation deficits.
We will be grateful for any improvements that can be made.
 We'll provide an update as the contractors give us the results.

To see if you qualify for the program in your state,
start here.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Garden Friday

Slowly, signs of spring have been popping up.
This sweet hyacinth stands alone in the cold and rain,
assuring us that the seasons are in for a change.

 The daffs are like a ray of sunshine
during this dreary winter weather.
We have had an abundance of rain and some estimates
state that we are over 30 inches past our usual amount of rainfall.

Guess who decided to wake up?
We have broccoli, kale and lettuce stirring in the seedling trays.
Now if we can get some sun to show up,
we'll be in good shape.

 Seeing these seedlings emerge will prompt me 
to start some more seeds this weekend.
If all goes well, green beans, more beets, and spinach will be next.
By the beginning of March,
our potato (Yukon Gold) stacks will be prepped.
Snap peas were sown last week,
but haven't germinated yet.
They will be worth the wait though.

With daytime temperatures in the 50's and 60's,
outside time has increased.
We have a few projects up our sleeves,
like creating arches for runner beans and melons,
as well as finding the ideal spot for our berry plants
that will be coming along soon.
Some time will be spent
adding compost to the garden beds,
to ready them for planting next month.
I'm also hoping to be on the receiving end
of some mighty fine garden soil.
New ventures in the garden keep me motivated
to explore things I've never before tried.
It's all a learning process.

Have you noticed any signs of spring 
in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Sprouting Made Simple

I have a new toy.
Always looking for ways to incorporate healthy options into my diet,
when I spied this new method for sprouting seeds,
I was all over it.

This is the bean screen system by the Masontops company.
It comes with two BPA-free lids that screw right on 
to any sized wide-mouthed mason jar.

The silicone ring ensures a tight seal,
 so that the lid stays put.

I'd been thinking about starting sprouts again,
and decided that this would be a great long-term solution.
I've grown sprouts in jars using a piece of screen and a rubberband,
but this system really makes it so much easier.
For one thing, all parts are dishwasher safe,
if you want to make sure they are squeaky clean between uses.

The lids get screwed onto the jar containing your seeds,
then water is added to rinse them twice a day.
The holes in the lids keep even smaller seeds like alfalfa, corralled.
Another use I recently read about, 
was someone who used one of the jars as a fruit fly trap in the summer,
putting a bit of cider vinegar in the jar and leaving it on the counter.
The fruit flies could get in, but couldn't get out.
I'm gonna be trying that trick out!

Complete instructions come with the kit,
which helps if you've never attempted this before.

 A couple of features of this kit that are especially appealing:
 1.  The jar can be inverted to provide proper drainage.
Seeds should be damp, but not sitting in water.
Once the seeds are rinsed, you simply turn it upside-down on a dishrag.
This makes it so much easier than the old way I was sprouting,
because once I rinse my seeds, I can walk away until the next rinse.
2.   The jar can be laid on its side once you are greening up the sprouts.
Putting it right on a windowsill will ensure they get lots of light.
The design of the lid keeps the jar from rolling around.

This batch of alfalfa seeds was started last Friday.
It should take about a week to ten days to fill the jar.
I'm looking forward to having fresh sprouts for my daily salad,
sandwiches, or adding to other cooked veggies.
It will be especially useful next winter,
when the colder temperatures 
keep greens from growing in the garden.
With two lids, a new jar can be started every week or so,
to ensure that the sprouts just keep on coming!

You can find out more about The Bean Screen
(including a how-to video)

(I'm not compensated for promoting this product,
I just like to keep the good stuff moving.)

Friday, February 15, 2019

Garden Friday

Welcome to Garden Friday!
It's actually starting to feel like spring around here!
Several sprays of daffs have been noticed around the neighborhood,
and it looks like we will be enjoying some in our yard soon too!
Temperatures here are still in the 30's overnight,
but we've had a few brilliant days in the 50's with ample sunshine.

 Recently our local Soil and Water Conservation District
had a tree seedling sale.
According to their website, this department 
"offers free technical assistance to landowners in the county 
with land management, drainage, wetlands, soils information, 
best management practices and other land resource problems".

white pine

I was able to pick up a smattering of white pine,
red bud and red cedar tree seedlings for under $20.
The goal is to add some privacy around our property
using these evergreen varieties.
What a bargain for the homeowner! 

With the weather cooperating,
I was able to get some veg seeds started.
My handy-dandy tweezers help with small seeds like lettuce.

I sowed a few trays of different lettuce varieties,
some broccoli, cabbage, kale and thyme.
The trays have been monitored to ensure they stay moist.

They will remain covered until germination takes place.
I checked them yesterday,
and no sign of it yet.
Once they have sprouted, the covers can come off during the day,
so that they can drink up the sunshine.
At night, they will be covered again,
until temperatures warm up a bit more.

 Much to my surprise,
some carrots were ready to be picked.
We roasted them yesterday with some other veggies.
The tub I grew these in somewhat stunted their growth,
so they will be sown in the raised beds from now on.

 I am absolutely blown away by this parsley!
It was planted months ago,
and made it through the winter uncovered and virtually ignored.
I'll be picking some for the freezer this weekend.

Another pleasant surprise was this broccoli growing
despite miserable conditions this winter.
We can never grow enough broccoli around here.
Both C and myself could eat it everyday.

Some of the crops in the hugelkultur bed are still trying to make something of themselves.
This Green Oakleaf looks scrumptious,

 and this Swiss chard is coming right along.
These crops have not had much attention and yet, keep right on growing.
Isn't Mother Nature just a wonder?

I'm not sure what happened to the cover crops.
This was the first time I have tried growing these,
so I'm not sure exactly what they should look like.
I guess I was thinking they would be taller.
The idea with cover crops is to keep the soil covered during the colder months,
to deter weeds, keep the soil warmer and enable earlier spring planting.

 These are the new raised rows I put in last fall.
I am still trying to decide on the final design of the garden.
I'm leaning toward all raised beds,
but the raised rows are less work and maintenance,
so the jury is still out.
We'll see how the crops do this season before making a final decision.

Meet my new best friend.
We have had a time gathering leaves, twigs,
sawdust and straw in the past couple of weeks 
since Big K brought it home.
It's been a regular rake-o-rama!
I love me some raking!

It seems that finally we are making some progress in the garden.
Slowly but surely, that task list will be tackled.
We are forecasted to have a week's worth of rain
without any letup.
So, although it will be a great time to install those tree seedlings,
not much tray work will get done.
Ah well.  
A gardener is at the mercy of the weather.

"Show me your garden
and I shall tell you what you are."
~Alfred Austin

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Morning Glory Muffins

I used to live on these in college.  
I remember many a day between classes,
sitting in the cafeteria and being amazed at the flavor of these treats.
And knowing they were a pretty decent snack
(heck, they are almost a meal in themselves),
made it even easier to savor every bite.
This recipe is based on one I found on  
but I've tweaked it per usual to accommodate my preferences.
The original recipe had a bit too much cinnamon 
and I decided to use pineapple instead of apples.
The biggest surprise was how much texture the flax seed gives them.
Wasn't sure I would like the addition,
but I'm sold.

Morning Glory Muffins

2 C flour
1 1/4 C sugar
2 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
2 C shredded carrots
1/2 C walnuts
1/2 C shredded apple (I used pineapple)
1/4 C flax seed
3 eggs
1 C light olive oil
2 t vanilla
1-3 T pineapple juice

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl.
Whisk to aerate.
Add carrots, pineapple (or apple)
and remaining wet ingredients.
Stir well to combine.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Insert paper liners in muffin tins
(I made one tray of mini-muffins
and one tray of standard size muffins.)
Fill liners full (these don't raise much).
Bake 20 minutes for mini-muffins,
25-30 minutes for standard size.
(Makes 16 standard-sized muffins,
and scads of minis!)